The teacher’s role in creating an atmosphere in the classroom is central to teaching and learning. Often this is about dispelling an existing atmosphere before you can create one of your own.
This has a lot to do with discussions or group interactions in a class and can be broken down into some ‘Best Lessons Rules of Thumb’.
The best lessons are ones in which:
i) students are actively engaged with what they are learning about
ii) appreciation is shown for everyone’s ideas
iii) students are encouraged to give good reasons for their ideas
iv) everyone is involved in discussions
v) students are inspired to have confidence in their own ideas
vi) students have enough time to explore ideas properly
vii) students have opportunities to work together, sharing ideas with others and learning to appreciate others
viii) students get to make their own decisions
ix) questioning is varied and thoughtful questions are asked
x) learning is enjoyable and fun.
Some of those are much easier said than done. A class normally consists of a spectrum of abilities, and part of the challenge of putting a good lesson together will be those forces which work against the rules above, like:
i) students who arrive determined to be disinterested in what they are supposed to be learning about
ii) criticism is shown for someone’s ideas by another segment of the group
iii) students can’t come up with, or refuse to come up with good reasons for their ideas
iv) not everyone is involved in discussions because some are too shy
v) students lose confidence in their own ideas after being bombarded by criticism
vi) students don’t have enough time to explore ideas properly because of the demands of the curriculum
vii) students working together fail to share ideas or appreciate others
viii) students make their own decisions but choose the laziest or easiest options
ix) though questioning is varied and thoughtful questions are asked, some students refuse to engage
x) though every effort is made to make a lesson enjoyable and fun, some spoil it for others.
That’s the reality of life in the classroom: it doesn’t matter how activities have been put together, education will not take place in a ‘non-productive’ atmosphere.
How do you beat that atmosphere and create your own?
a) Know before you start who those students are who arrive determined to be disinterested, and if possible isolate them from each other or give them an activity to concentrate on with a stiff target.
b) If criticism is shown for someone’s ideas by another segment of the group, make sure that this criticism is openly negated and that the ideas are granted a place.
c) If students can’t come up with, or refuse to come up with good reasons for their ideas, allocate them a place on a displayed chart below that of those who can.
d) Encourage shy students to contribute in less public ways, perhaps by giving them a short assignment to do to explore a particular aspect of the topic.
e) Where students have lost confidence in their own ideas after being bombarded by criticism, ensure their self-esteem is restored as in b) above
f) Where the curriculum is rigid and demands time, isolate this aspects of a subject which would benefit the most from discussions and use it wisely.
g) Where students working together fail to share ideas or appreciate others, step in and give the under appreciated idea a boost.
h) If students are choosing the laziest or easiest options, you need a set of guidelines which forbids them to do so. Every option offered must be of unequal level of difficulty or similarly demanding.
i) Students who refuse to engage have something else happening. At an appropriate time, find out what this is and use your resources to deal with it appropriately.
j) There will always be some who try to spoil it for others. The trick is to apply all of the above so that the ones who spoil are outranked and out-manoeuvred by the ones who want to learn.